Zinedine Zidane said the Clasico on Sunday will not decide the title race even if Real Madrid lose to Barcelona and fall five points behind them in La Liga.
Yet opposite number Quique Setien believes Barca’s two-point cushion at the top makes the match at the Santiago Bernabeu “much more important for Madrid” than his team.
Victory for the Catalans would effectively give them a six-point advantage over Madrid, given what would be a superior head-to-head, with 12 games left to play.
But Zidane insists there would be still be a way back. “I don’t think anyone will lose anything this weekend,” he said in a press conference on Saturday. “There are still 12 games left, we’ll still be in the title race regardless of the result. But we’re going to try to win, 100 per cent.”
Setien, also speaking Saturday, said the pressure was all on Real.
“For Madrid this match is certainly much more important than for us. In relation to their situation in the table, it is a key match, I don’t know if it’s decisive, but it’s very important.”
After Madrid, Barcelona will only have one away game left against the top six, when they face Sevilla in April, yet Setien thinks there will be more twists to come.
“A victory would give us an advantage but I don’t know if it would be enough,” said Setien. “I think probably not because we’ve already seen a lot of surprises.”
– Tension –
Both teams have endured a bumpy few weeks but Barcelona arrive in a better mood after Madrid’s 2-1 defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday made it one win from five games for Zidane’s side.
Asked if his job would be under threat if they fail to win the title this term, Zidane said: “I don’t know, that’s a question for someone else. I know what I have to do.
“We’re going to try to win something, thats what we’re working for but you can only have one winner.”
“You lose two games, you get criticised,” Zidane added. “I get it, I am responsible. It’s what is happening, it’s nothing new. But I have the strength to continue, I have faith in my players and I believe we can turn this around.”
Barcelona have already sacked their coach this season, with Setien replacing Ernesto Valverde in January, while a number of off-field controversies have created tension between key players and the board.
Former Real Madrid forward Jorge Valdano said this week the Clasico would be a battle of “two lame ducks” but Zidane said the criticism has been harsh.
“When teams start dropping points, people sometimes over analyse,” Zidane said. “Real Madrid and Barcelona are first and second in the league so what does it say about the others?
“I don’t think people can say we are a disaster if we are first and second in the table. There are always periods where you are good and periods where you are less good.”
Setien was at the Santiago Bernabeu to watch City’s win over Madrid in the Champions League and spoke to Pep Guardiola after the match.
“I didn’t go to see Guardiola, I went to see the game and to watch an opponent very similar in terms of style to ours,” Setien said.
“We talked about different things. There are some things City did that could be good for us and other things that are not for us and we aren’t interested in.”
Jordi Alba was given the green light on Saturday to play after recovering from an adductor injury while Setien confirmed Gerard Pique is fit, despite turning his ankle against Napoli on Tuesday.
“It’s not damaged and he will not have any problem,” Setien said about Pique. On Alba, he added: “We’re feeling positive, it’s just whether we start him or not. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”